Earlier this month, the world lost the great Michael K. Williams, the man behind one of the most highly-regarded TV show characters of all-time, Omar Little from The Wire, which is quite possibly the most iconic piece of pop culture stemming from the city of Baltimore. A quote from Omar that lives on forever is a scene where he’s in the middle of being hunted by notorious gang leaders, he calls out, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
The Kansas City Chiefs had been the kings around Baltimore for the past three years. This time, the Ravens didn’t miss.
Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson might be the two most-fun quarterbacks to watch in the entire NFL. They’re young, they play for two AFC-contending teams, and they both make charismatic, highlight-generating plays in two very different ways. Mahomes won the MVP in the 2018 season, Lamar in 2019. We’ve wanted this to be a competitive rivalry for the next several decades. Sure, there are other teams contending in the AFC that can potentially rival or challenge the Chiefs- the Chargers in their own division with the young Justin Herbert, the Bills with the rivaling rocket-arm in Josh Allen, or the Browns, who have given them classic games in their last two matches, but the Ravens play such a contrasting style that there’s a different sense of animosity that makes us want to speak this into being a classic.
It hasn’t even been a competition.
Going into Sunday, the Ravens were 0-3 against Kansas City, only had one close matchup in overtime in 2018, and were absolutely embarrassed by them in primetime last season. The Ravens, always taking pride in their defense, have allowed Patrick Mahomes to have a 119.1 Passer Rating with 12 TDs, 1479 yards, 369.8 yards per game, and only 2 interceptions. It’s almost as if the Chiefs leave the Ravens shell-shocked; Lamar called them their kryptonite after the 2020 blowout. Questions swirled throughout the NFL ether as to whether or not the Raven’s playstyle was sustainable- the Chiefs put up an otherworldly amount of points through their passing attack, meanwhile Baltimore’s bread and butter is gritty defensive play and dynamically running the ball with Lamar at the helm, which isn’t effective if you give up the amount of points Kansas City scores and have to play from behind by running the ball and using the entirety of the clock.
The Chiefs are the standard in the AFC, and the Ravens know it. Them along with the other contenders in the conference are well-aware that they need to gear up to beat them in order to be taken seriously.
Going into Sunday Night, the Ravens had 14 players on IR including some of their most-critical players out (OT Ronnie Stanley, CB Marcus Peters, CB Jimmy Smith, and DE Derek Wolfe) and were coming off of an overtime Monday Night Football loss to the Raiders, already appearing to be a potentially snake-bitten team. Patrick Mahomes was 11-0 with 35 touchdowns and NO PICKS in September going into the game, so all bets were on Kansas City.
Baltimore finally did what other teams have not against the Chiefs: they got up off the mat.
The Ravens finally exercised their demons, winning 36-35 with Lamar going 18/26 for 239 passing yards, 107 rushing yards, and 3 touchdowns. In the past, we had seen the Chiefs go down by double-digits multiple times from the get-go, almost as if they’re a lion playing with their food only to strike back in the second half and mutilate the other team as they go on to win by multiple touchdowns. This time the script was flipped: Lamar opened the game by throwing a pick-six, and they were down 28-17 in the third quarter. They scratched and clawed their way back and got two Lamar rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter (one where he pulled the ultimate flex by flipping into the endzone) and the defense absolutely shut them out and controlled the game in the fourth quarter. It was capped off by a wholesome moment caught on the mic where coach John Harbaugh, mic’d up, asked Lamar, “Lamar! You wanna go for this? Let’s go.” as they converted a fourth down to win the game.
After wanting these games to be competitive for so long, we finally got it, and the NFL is better for it. It’s more fun when the dominant powerhouse has a countering adversary, and Mahomes vs. Lamar is what we want to see: the gun-slinging rocket arm tossing 75 yard passes to Tyreek Hill against the agile gazelle dancing around in the back field before juking three defenders.
It’s not just the Lamar vs. Mahomes factor either: it’s also the scheming and makeup of the teams that will put them into bloody wars for years to come: the Baltimore defense built for shutting down offenses and controlling the clock for Lamar to have time to run against the team that just knows they can score a million points and win no matter what happens.
The matchup finally delivered. Will it actually matter when it comes time for the postseason this year is up in the air, but this might have not only saved the Ravens’ current season, but it revived our hopes that these matchups CAN be competitive for years to come.
Omar once referred to himself in the third-person, saying “Omar don’t scare.”
Even before Lamar, those Ravens teams that challenged the Tom Brady Patriots in heated postseason battles have had that mentality and culture for over a decade, and it looks as if that will only continue. Baltimore don’t scare.